I think about my son, in Marine Corps boot camp 16 years ago, as Father’s Day approaches.
Is it a “greeting card” holiday? Is it a way to offer some specials on sales and at chain restaurants? That son of mine, who survived Iraq and Afghanistan, is a father now. So it’s Father’s Day for him, too.
What does the role mean? Our sons and daughters arrive in this world and they show up without operating instructions. Not even an Ikea diagram.
We figure out the job, mostly, on our own. My Dad did not put me in Little League, or take me hunting. A World War II vet who worked in Hollywood, he took me to movie house revivals of “Shane” and “The Magnificent Seven.” Movies about strong men, strong women, that showed a bit about what a man was supposed to do.
A papa bear is supposed to have something to show the cubs. Maybe it’s fishing and maybe it’s baseball, or maybe it is to even just share a love of learning. Or, movies as teachable moments.
Something also about right and wrong. Something about growing the “moral compass,” so the youngsters can find their own “true North” — that direction in life that may carry them far.
Anyway, my son was in Marine Corps boot camp with every DI of their generation having their initial impression of a DI from another movie called “Full Metal Jacket.” That was R. Lee Ermey, the real-life DI who became a TV and movie star and who left such an impression on his Antelope Valley hometown, that Avenue N is now named for him. He was a terror as a DI in real-life boot camp. He was a terror up on the big screen and set the mold for the horrors that DIs inflict while they break their boots down,and rebuild them as Marines.
My son was punching a bag in Marine Corps Martial Arts Training. He was firing elbow shots with enough force, that his own real-life DI walked over and demanded, “What’s your style?” And then, “What belt do you hold?”
It was a dreadful moment. You cannot equivocate. You cannot fib. Miserably, Marine boot Garrett P. Anderson responded, “Traditional karate” and “This recruit is a black belt.”
From that moment, he was branded the unit’s “K-Mart Ninja” and managed accordingly. If you saw “Full Metal Jacket,” think about “Private Joker.”
He survived. But how he survived that moment of truth and how he actually did become a black belt started with one of the best teachers, and role models, I will ever know.
This past weekend, a week before Father’s Day, a father — and grandfatherly — figure to thousands of young martial artists in this Antelope Valley, took retirement. Anthony Kitson was a child of the Battle of Britain. He was a soldier of the United States and a civil servant for years in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. In war and peace, he became a master martial artist.
He taught my son Garrett and daughter Grace how to trail hike without tiring. And how to get up off the mat when life knocked them down.
The first time Mr. Kitson retired was from government at Edwards Air Force Base. He spent the next 27 years of his life teaching the basics of self-defense to thousands of children in Palmdale and Lancaster. The system was called Young Olympians, and later, Young Champions.
The formula was basic karate. Keep it simple and keep it affordable. As he became known “Sensei Tony,” the Japanese word for “teacher,” taught a hundred or so students a week, in recreation and parks locales, in both cities. In recent years, parents who took his classes, would bring their own children.
What did they learn? Self-respect, self-discipline, confidence. How to take a punch and serve one up. One out of a hundred might make it to black belt rank. Along the way, the kids learned how to practice and how to show up, dressed for work. The young champions who have taken over teaching his classes are people who learned their craft from him. They, too, are formidable black belts, proven in endless competitions. They are known as “Tony’s Tigers.”
The Antelope Valley Press is out prospecting for its annual Hometown Heroes project and Mr. Kitson would have so many nominators the mail bag would overflow. But as we contemplate Father’s Day, soon after Mother’s Day, we can ask, “What is the job, anyway?”
It is to suit up, show up and try to do your very best, just about all the time. It won’t be easy. It won’t always work out. But you might just help raise a generation of black belts, or otherwise, very responsible citizens. Being a father, never easy, but can be very rewarding.
Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group who works on veterans and community mental health issues. He served as an Army paratrooper, and as editor of the Valley Press, deployed to Iraq as embedded journalist with a hometown National Guard unit.